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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 17:54 GMT
EU envoy supports Sri Lanka peace
Chris Patten effigy
Mr Patten's meeting with the rebel leader provoked street protests
European Union envoy Chris Patten has said the world wants peace in Sri Lanka, after a controversial meeting with the Tamil Tiger rebels' leader.

Mr Patten said he had asked the rebels to abandon violence "once and for all".

A spokesman for rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran said the Tigers also wanted peace - but the government had to push the process forward.

Protesters in Sri Lanka have accused Mr Patten of giving the Tigers legitimacy by meeting their leader.

There were angry scenes outside Mr Patten's hotel on Tuesday, as about 100 protesters burnt his effigy and called him a "white Tiger".

Some Sri Lankans were particularly annoyed that Mr Patten's meeting with Mr Prabhakaran coincided with the latter's birthday, and came on the eve of Martyrs' Day - the Tigers' annual celebration of their struggle.

Mr Patten also met Sri Lanka's Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe, on Wednesday, after returning from talks with the Tigers in rebel territory in northern Sri Lanka.

The EU is a major player in Sri Lanka's peace process, having promised billions of dollars in aid if the Tigers and the government can reach a settlement.

Mr Patten's visit was intended to aid peace talks between the rebels and the government.

Tigers 'committed to peace'

During Wednesday's meeting, Mr Prabhakaran told the EU envoy the Tigers remained committed to resolving the island's conflict peacefully, a senior rebel leader said.

Chris Patten and Velupillai Prabhakaran
Mr Prabhakaran (right) receives Mr Patten (photo: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)
But SP Thamilselvan added: "Our leader... told Mr Patten it is not at all in the hands of the Liberation Tigers to ensure that there is no return to violence," the TamiNet website reported.

"It is completely up to the Sinhala polity [leaders in Colombo] to see there is no return to war."

More than 60,000 people have died since the rebels began their fight for a homeland for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east in 1983.

Mr Patten held talks on Tuesday with President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is critical of the government's peace efforts.

Constitutional deadlock

The EU envoy told the BBC in an interview following Tuesday's protests that none of the leaders he had met had suggested he should call off his talks with the rebel leader.

He played down the protests, and said he thought the effigy of him had been "rather flattering".

I've met some - and let me be careful about my words - some pretty dodgy people in my life in pursuit of conflict prevention and political settlements to disputes
Chris Patten
EU External Affairs Commissioner

Mr Patten's visit was planned before Mrs Kumaratunga sacked three government ministers and temporarily suspended parliament this month.

The president said she feared the government's stance towards the rebels had endangered Sri Lanka's sovereignty and security.

Peace efforts have been on hold since then, as the feuding president and prime minister try to find a way out of their constitutional deadlock.

As a major donor, the European Union has been instrumental in raising funds for rebuilding Sri Lanka.

The BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo says Mr Patten's visit to rebel territory has outraged those who feel the rebels are not sincere about peace.

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